Since I’ve got back from my family holiday in Sicily loads of you have been asking me about whether I would recommend the island and whether staying in a villa is better than going for the hotel option. So to save repeating myself, I figured I’d write a blogpost all about it instead.
This is the third time I’ve been to Sicily; I first went as a child, then with my husband and now this time with the kids in tow as well. And having already done the touristy thing of going up Mount Etna, walking round the temples of Agrigento, tiptoeing round the catacombs of Palermo and lording it up around the posh plazas of Taormina, we decided to keep it nice and simple and far from the tourist trail.
On previous family holidays we’ve always gone for the hotel option, simply because it seemed easier whilst the kids were young and it meant I didn’t have to do any cooking. Even though we only did bed and breakfast, so as to avoid the hideous buffet queues and Butlins-esque mini discos (the kids hate them, I hate them even more!), it had still reached a point where staying in a hotel felt suffocating and way too British. I’ll be honest…I’m not that keen on other people, even less so on other people’s kids. I hate having to play the ‘get up in the morning to bagsy a sun bed’ game and I hate not being able to use the pool because it’s time for ‘aqua aerobics’.
So this year it was gonna be ALL about us – our rules, our times, our pool!
We like to book our holidays independently; there’s a bit more work involved, but it definitely saves you a bit of money. We booked our flights through Alitalia and found an amazing villa on wishsicily.com. Unfortunately this particular villa was only available for one of the weeks, but because it looked sooooooo stunning we took the decision to split the holiday in two, spending one week in the north at this swanky Italian palace and one week in the south in a modern villa with large pool that we found on ownersdirect.co.uk.
Week 1 – Marina Di Ragusa (Villa Flora)
This modern 4 bed villa was located on the south coast of Sicily in Marina Di Ragusa, an upmarket seaside town that all the Italians seem to flock to, but has so far evaded the majority of us Brits. In fact, during the time we stayed there we didn’t hear one other single British voice and it was kind of refreshing, if perhaps not a little daunting at first. The villa itself was immaculate; clean throughout and beautifully designed with stand out features of a ceiling mounted rope swing chair, red glossy sliding bathroom doors and perfectly manicured gardens complete with massive pool. As part of a small gated compound it felt really safe and secure and we were happy leaving the kids to run around the garden whilst we were in the pool or in the house.
Location wise it wasn’t too bad. Situated midway down a busy road, it was a 10-15 minute walk to the beach and a further 5-10 minutes took you to the marina itself where there were plenty of restaurants, cafes and shops. Away from any real noise, but not so stranded that we felt lost. Also, rather flukily there was a fairground in town and it was based at the end of the main road, which meant we of course had to stop in there a couple of times whilst the kids bounced on the trampolines, ran amok in the Avatar themed crazy house and hooked ducks for crappy pound shop esque plastic tat…well isn’t that what fairgrounds and holidays are all about!?!
The restaurants were typically Sicilian and because of the lack of other tourists, nine times out of ten the menus were only available in Italian, which meant we were forced to pick up the lingo pretty quickly. I personally quite like that, ‘cos you never know what you might get and I’m always really keen to try out local dishes. For my daughter, however, who pretty much only eats Marmite, pesto and bananas it was a bit more of a struggle. We learnt how to say Spaghetti Pomodoro very early on and that’s basically what she survived on for two weeks. The rest of us, on the other hand, enjoyed heaps of seafood – octopus, mussels, tuna, swordfish, prawns, clams; piles of fresh al dente pasta – squid ink spaghetti was foodie heaven; glasses of granita – basically the best Mr Frosty you have ever eaten; Aperol Spritz’s – the drink of the moment, seriously if you haven’t ever had one you deffo need this in your life; and my absolute fave Sicilian dish, Caponata – a flavoursome veggie mix of aubergine, tomatoes, onions and capers.
Now the main point that I stressed to the rest of the family when we were booking a villa, was that I absolutely did not want to spend my time cooking, and to be fair that didn’t happen, but I gotta say I did miss a hotel breakfast. However good the fresh fruit and freshly baked bread is, it just ain’t the same as a help yourself breakfast spread of pastries, pancakes and poached eggs! On the plus side though, it did result in me coming back from my hols having lost weight (I know, incredible right!?!).
Week 2 – Trabia (Villa Gioiosa)
You know on the X-Factor when the contestants get through bootcamp and then go onto judges houses, well arriving at this villa is exactly like that! Driving through its electric front gates, the majesty and full on swank of this villa was just jaw dropping. Of course we tried acting all cool as though “hey this is nothing, we stay in places like this all the time”, but the minute the owner left we were rifling through drawers, lounging on chaise lounges and running round the house like excitable chihuahuas. Capable of sleeping 11, this two storey palatial villa had a giant swimming pool, table football, outdoor and indoor kitchen, poolhouse, terrace, and came equipped with the most vast array of kitchen gadgets I think I’ve ever seen (who on earth uses a mincer on holiday!?!). Each room is beautifully designed with lots of attention to detail, knickknacks and wall art and the grounds are perfectly looked after and over look the sea, the mountains and the neighbouring cactus orchards.
For me one of the true highlights of this villa, aside from the pool which really was fab, was the outdoor kitchen and terrace. I love the whole concept of indoor/outdoor living and there was nothing I loved more than waking up before the others, popping the kettle onto the outdoor hob, before relaxing with a cup of coffee and a good book, watching the sun come up and basking in the bliss of morning silence. It was heavenly.
This villa was our escapism, located too far away from the village and beach to be able to safely walk it with children, we very much had to rely on the hire car. This wasn’t too much of a problem as we quickly adapted to eating our main meals out at lunch and then chilling with snacks and drinks and playing games in the evening at the villa instead. However, I think the kids started to get bored of it after a while and that’s when the bickering started!
This holiday, more than any other, was a right old bickerfest. The kids were at each other for the entire two weeks and that side of things was really draining. It was the usual stuff of he did this, she did that, he won’t play my games, she’s an idiot blah blah blah, and for the main part I was able to ignore it, but after a while it does your head in and you inevitably get drawn into the argument. Hey, it may be a developmental thing, that they’re just at a difficult age, but personally I think it’s because they were bored and missed the social interaction of other people. I do believe it’s important for children to be bored at times, because if they’re always pandered to and entertained how do they grow their imagination and self dependence, but I do think that perhaps 2 weeks of only us just wasn’t enough for them and it may have helped reduce the arguments. That being said there were moments where the two of them got on better than I have seen them in a while, and listening in on their conversations as they played Spiderman Uno together, jumped in the pool and spied on us parents, it made it all worth while. In fact since we’ve been back from our hols, they’ve both been getting on loads better and I’m certain it’s because they relied on each other so much for entertainment.
The beach in Trabia was OK; sandy and the sea was safe to swim in, but absolutely riddled with rubbish and this is a problem throughout the island. For that very reason, Sicily is certainly not the prettiest Mediterranean island you’ll ever visit, with rubbish dumped on every roadside some areas end up looking like a run down council estate. Apparently, it is so much of a problem that the majority of their rubbish gets shipped off to Austria for landfill…Lucky Austria!
So which villa did we prefer…..?
It’s difficult to choose one over the over in all honesty as they both had their plus points as well as things we would change. The first one was better located, the second one had more space and more wow factor. Looking back I’m glad we were forced into having to book two villas, as possibly two weeks at either one of them would have been too much.
Which then brings me onto the question of whether we would book a villa holiday again?
I think the short answer is yes, however we deffo need to spend more time thinking carefully about where the villa is located and whether we need to go as all out swanky as we did. Us adults loved the swankiness, but it’s wasted on the kids and ultimately if the kids are happy, the adults are happy.
My husband was telling me about this book that he read recently called ‘I Know What to Do, So Why Don’t I Do It?: The New Science of Self-Discipline’ by Nick Hall that goes into detail about a man and his family who take the same holiday every year even though they can’t stand it. They don’t like the place, they don’t like the activities they force themselves to do, it’s hard work and they hate it, so why do they carry on putting themselves through it year after year? Because the theory is that by having a crappy holiday, it makes you appreciate the normal day-to-day life you lead when you’re back!!! Crazy ridiculous I know, but it got me thinking about what qualities do make the ideal family holiday, or whether there even is an ideal family holiday?
This holiday more than any other we’ve been on, made us question what it is we actually want from a holiday and being the list loving family that we are, we sat down one afternoon with the kids and compiled a list of the things we’d liked and the things we hadn’t liked so much about this and our other holidays. The consensus was that we loved having our own pool and our own space, the kids loved having separate bedrooms and we loved just chilling out as a family. But the kids in particular missed having the hubbub of a tourist resort and so it would have been nice to be a bit closer to some action.
For me it’s simple, I want:
- good food (cooked by other people)
- a swimming pool
- kids that don’t bicker (if someone has the solution to this then please, PLEASE let me know!)
- plenty of good books (I managed to read 4 on this holiday and that still wasn’t enough!)
- more cocktails!
What makes your ideal holiday?
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